The American Dream

Grandma Character Analysis

Though Mommy is the play’s most bombastic force, Grandma is its quiet center. The only character who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience—and the only character who seems to truly know what’s going on as the play descends into confusing, twisting dream-logic—Grandma is the sole keeper of her family’s history. Grandma’s hold on the past is symbolized in the form of the finely-wrapped boxes she spends much of the play moving around, seemingly in preparation to leave her daughter and son-in-law’s home for good. Grandma is careful with her family’s past and the horrors it contains—she wants to revere it and bring it with her, even though it threatens to hurt her. Mommy and Daddy, on the other hand, seem to have complete amnesia about their family’s past. Grandma looks down on Mommy and Daddy, and in particular berates her daughter Mommy for her cruelty, greed, and narcissism. Though Grandma seems to fear being taken away by “the van man” and put in a nursing home, she chooses to leave home at the end of the play—Grandma is ultimately a stubborn old woman who wants to live her life on her terms. Grandma is the one to tell Mrs. Barker and The Young Man who they are and what they’re doing in the play, and she is also the one to cut the action off in order to preserve the evening’s “comedic” tone and leave all of the other characters suspended in a moment of false satisfaction. Grandma’s mysterious ability to traverse the worlds of the play and the the audience is never explained—but Albee, who felt close in real life with both his grandmothers, is perhaps signaling society’s failure to respect and care for its elders, and warning against the calamities that will come if America develops amnesia about its past.

Grandma Quotes in The American Dream

The The American Dream quotes below are all either spoken by Grandma or refer to Grandma. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of The American Dream published in 1997.
The American Dream Quotes

GRANDMA: I didn’t really like wrapping them; it hurt my fingers, and it frightened me. But it had to be done.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mommy, Daddy
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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MRS. BARKER: Can we assume that the boxes are for us? I mean, can we assume that you had us come here for the boxes?

MOMMY: Are you in the habit of receiving boxes?

DADDY: A very good question.

MRS. BARKER: Well, that would depend on the reason we’re here. I’ve got my fingers in so many little pies, you know.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Grandma
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MOMMY: Oh, I’m so fortunate to have such a husband. Just think; I could have a husband who was poor, or argumentative, or a husband who sat in a wheel chair all day… OOOOHHHH! What have I said? What have I said?

GRANDMA: You said you could have a husband who sat in a wheel…

MOMMY: I’m mortified! I could die! I could cut my tongue out! I could…

MRS. BARKER (forcing a smile): Oh, now… now… don’t think about it…

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Daddy
Page Number: 92-93
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MRS. BARKER: Please tell me why they called and asked us to come. I implore you!

GRANDMA: Oh my; that feels good. It’s been so long since anybody implored me. Do it again. Implore me some more.

MRS. BARKER: You’re your daughter’s mother, all right!

GRANDMA: Oh, I don’t mean to be hard. If you won’t implore me, then beg me, or ask me, or entreat me… just anything like that.

MRS. BARKER: You’re a dreadful old woman!

GRANDMA: You’ll understand some day. Please!

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Mommy
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

GRANDMA: Weeeeellll . . . in the first place, it turned out the bumble didn’t look like either one of its parents. That was enough of a blow, but things got worse. One night, it cried its heart out, if you can imagine such a thing.

MRS. BARKER: Cried its heart out! Well!

GRANDMA: But that was only the beginning. Then it turned out it only had eyes for its Daddy.

MRS. BARKER: For its Daddy! Why, any self-respecting woman would have gouged those eyes right out of its head.

GRANDMA: Well, she did. That’s exactly what she did. But then, it kept its nose up in the air.

MRS. BARKER: Ufggh! How disgusting!

GRANDMA: That’s what they thought. But then, it began to develop an interest in its you-know-what.

MRS. BARKER: In its you-know-what! Well! I hope they cut its hands off at the wrists!

GRANDMA: Well, yes, they did that eventually. But first, they cut off its you-know-what.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Mommy, Daddy
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

GRANDMA: My, my, aren’t you something!

YOUNG MAN: Hm?

GRANDMA: I said, my, my, aren’t you something.

YOUNG MAN: Oh. Thank you.

GRANDMA: You don’t sound very enthusiastic.

YOUNG MAN: Oh, I’m… I’m used to it.

GRANDMA: Yup . . . yup. You know, if I were about a hundred and fifty years younger I could go for you.

YOUNG MAN: Yes, I imagine so.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), The Young Man (speaker)
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

GRANDMA: Boy, you know what you are, don’t you? You’re the American Dream, that’s what you are. All those other people, they don’t know what they’re talking about. You . . . you are the American Dream.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), The Young Man
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

YOUNG MAN: I have suffered losses . . . that I can’t ex­plain. A fall from grace . . . a departure of innocence . . . […] Once ... it was as if all at once my heart. . . became numb . . . almost as though I . . . almost as though . . . just like that . . . it had been wrenched from my body . . . and from that time I have been un­able to love. Once […] I awoke, and my eyes were burning. And since that time I have been unable to see anything, anything, with pity, with affection . . . with anything but . . . cool disinterest.

Related Characters: The Young Man (speaker), Mommy, Daddy, Grandma
Page Number: 114-115
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

YOUNG MAN: I have no emotions. I have been drained, torn asunder… disemboweled. I have, now, only my per­son… my body, my face. I use what I have... I let people love me…I accept the syntax around me, for while I know I cannot relate... I know I must be related to. I let people love me… I let people touch me… I let them draw pleasure from my groin… from my presence… from the fact of me… but, that is all it comes to.

Related Characters: The Young Man (speaker), Mommy, Daddy, Grandma
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

YOUNG MAN: All the boxes are outside.

GRANDMA (a little sadly): I don’t know why I bother to take them with me. They don’t have much in them… some old letters, a couple of regrets… Pekinese… blind at that… the television… my Sunday teeth… eighty-six years of living… some sounds… a few images, a little garbled by now… and, well… (she shrugs) …you know… the things one accumulates.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), The Young Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MOMMY: Why… where’s Grandma? Grandma’s not here! Where’s Grandma? And look! The boxes are gone, too. […]

MRS. BARKER: Why, Mommy, the van man was here. […]

MOMMY (Near tears): No, no, that’s impossible. No. There’s no such thing as the van man. […] We… we made him up. Grandma? Grandma?

DADDY (Moving to MOMMY): There, there, now. […]

(While DADDY is comforting MOMMY, GRANDMA comes out, stage right, near the footlights)

GRANDMA (To the audience): Shhhhhh! I want to watch this.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy (speaker), Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker)
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 121-122
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MOMMY (Herself again, circling THE YOUNG MAN, feeling his arm, poking him): Yes, sir! Yes, sirree! Now this is more like it. Now this is a great deal more like it! Daddy! Come see. Come see if this isn’t a great deal more like it.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy, Grandma, Mrs. Barker, The Young Man
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MOMMY (Moving to the tray): So, let’s— Five glasses? Why five? There are only four of us. Why five?

YOUNG MAN (Catches GRANDMA’S eye; GRANDMA indicates she is not there): Oh, I’m sorry.

MOMMY: You must learn to count. We’re a wealthy family, and you must learn to count.

YOUNG MAN: I will.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), The Young Man (speaker), Grandma
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

GRANDMA (Interrupting… to audience): Well, I guess that just about wraps it up. I mean, for better or worse, this is a comedy, and I don’t think we’d better go any further. No, definitely not. So, let’s leave things as they are right now . . . while everybody’s happy . . . while everybody’s got what he wants. . . or everybody’s got what he thinks he wants. Good night, dears.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mommy, Daddy, Mrs. Barker, The Young Man
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Grandma Character Timeline in The American Dream

The timeline below shows where the character Grandma appears in The American Dream. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The American Dream
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
...Daddy cannot. Daddy says he doesn’t want the toilet fixed for his sake, but for Grandma’s. Mommy sadly states that Grandma cries lately every time she goes to the bathroom, because... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Grandma enters the living room from the hallway, carrying many “neatly wrapped and tied” boxes of... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mommy chides Daddy for saying such a “terrible” thing to Grandma, and Daddy apologizes. Grandma says she’s going to get the rest of the boxes. Before... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
The elderly, Grandma says, are subject to horrible mistreatment. People snap at elderly people, she says, and so... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy once again says he feels sorry for Grandma, and is sad to have hurt her. Mommy brushes Grandma’s speech off, insisting the woman... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy points out how nicely Grandma has wrapped the boxes. Mommy says that Grandma has always wrapped boxes nicely—when Mommy was... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...used to be very poor, ever since she married Daddy she’s been “very rich”—and even Grandma gets to “feel rich.” (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mommy says she wishes she could put Grandma in a nursing home—she “can’t stand” watching the old woman do all of the cooking... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...uglies.” Mommy seems to be looking forward to the day Daddy dies, so she and Grandma can inherit all of his money and live by themselves—unless someone puts Grandma in a... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Grandma comes back into the living room carrying more boxes. Again, she dumps them all at... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy says he’s sorry again, and Grandma accepts his apology—she says she knows Mommy is the one who “makes all the trouble.”... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mommy tells Grandma that she’s ashamed of her. Grandma retorts that Mommy should’ve “gotten rid” of her “a... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...that they’re expecting people, asks where “they” could be and why “they” are so late. Grandma asks “who” is coming, but Mommy replies that she already knows. Grandma protests that she... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mommy tells Grandma to go to bed, and Grandma protests, saying she wants to stay in the sitting... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
The doorbell rings, and Mommy joyously announces that “they” have arrived. Grandma asks if “the van people” are at the door to “take [her] away.” Daddy tells... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...and behaving like a “woman.” At this remark, Daddy bucks up and implores Mommy and Grandma both to watch him open the door. Mommy insists they’re watching, but Grandma says she... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
...other time,” but Mrs. Barker replies that “we’re much too efficient for that.” Mommy urges Grandma to say hello to “them.” Grandma insists she can’t see anyone. Mrs. Barker approaches Grandma... (full context)
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...legs. As she does so, she remarks upon what an “unattractive” apartment Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma live in. Daddy tells Mrs. Barker that he was just complaining to Mommy about all... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...over. As Mommy paces back and forth around the room she steps on several of Grandma’s neatly-wrapped boxes, agitating Grandma, who begins muttering about the boxes. Daddy asks Grandma if Mrs.... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...a recent operation were. Mrs. Barker apologizes for not having been more sensitive towards Daddy. Grandma mutters that Mrs. Barker could have asked how Daddy was feeling. When Mommy tells her... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma tries to speak up and say something, but Mommy urges her to be quiet, and... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy yells for Grandma and Mommy to stop fighting. Mommy suggests Daddy call a van and have Grandma taken... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma says she knows why Mrs. Barker has come. Mrs. Barker says she wishes Grandma would... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker calls Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma a “jolly” family. She says she’s been “knee-deep” in work lately with all her committees.... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...have some “girl talk.” Mrs. Barker asks for a glass of water, and Mommy tells Grandma to get it, but Grandma refuses. Mommy threatens Grandma, telling her she’ll have her “taken... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker and Grandma are alone in the living room. Mrs. Barker says she feels “lost” and has no... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma tells Mrs. Barker that the most she can do for her is give her a... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
The woman who was “very much like” Mrs. Barker, Grandma says, sold the married couple a “bumble” of their own—but things didn’t work out well... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...parents resented the child for having gone and died after they’d paid for it. So, Grandma says, the parents called up the woman who “sold them” the bumble, demanding their money... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
As Grandma concludes her story, Daddy calls from upstairs and says that he can’t find the television.... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...follow her into the kitchen to find a glass of water and get away from Grandma. Mrs. Barker tells Mommy she’s not being very polite to Grandma, but Mommy reminds Mrs.... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Grandma remarks on how “awful” the way younger people talk to older people is—but then says... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma admires The Young Man’s good looks, and he tells her he’s “used to” such comments.... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Mommy shouts into the living room from the kitchen, asking who has rung the doorbell. Grandma tells her that “The American Dream” is here. Daddy’s voice can be heard, asking what... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Young Man asks who else is home, but Grandma tells him not to worry about it. She asks The Young Man what he’s doing... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Grandma beckons The Young Man close to her and tells him a secret: though Mommy and... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
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Grandma tells The Young Man that he looks familiar, and he agrees that he is “a... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
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Grandma compassionately tells The Young Man that she once knew someone very much like him. Grandma... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
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...she can’t find Mommy or Daddy anywhere. She asks who The Young Man is, and Grandma introduces him as “the van man.” Mrs. Barker indignantly asks The Young Man how dare... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma points to all the boxes scattered on the floor and asks The Young Man to... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma tells Mrs. Barker she needs to talk to her about the “dilemma” with Mommy and... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma is alone for a moment, but soon The Young Man comes back in to tell... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...whole thing’s settled.” Mommy and Daddy express their relief. Mommy looks around and asks where Grandma and her boxes have gone. Mrs. Barker tells Mommy that “the van man” came for... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...glasses, she’s confused—there are only four of them there. The Young Man looks offstage at Grandma—who is still watching from the wings—and apologizes for counting incorrectly. Mommy urges everyone to take... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma steps out into the open and addresses the audience, telling them that “about wraps it... (full context)